Friday, August 21, 2015

Pension payments on ice: Is it still not our business, Madam President? 21 August 2015

So, according to the message below from the UN Staff Union, the new IT system put in place by the Pension Fund to improve client servicing is instead doing the opposite by slowing things down.

I understand and appreciate the helpful spirit in which the Union is proposing that staff facing retirement accumulate leave and other reserves to tide them over for several months until their first pension payment arrives.  

Still, given the deleterious effects of this slow-down, and the new UN policy that the SG inaugurated by firing the head of MINUSCA over allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, perhaps the SG needs to consider similar action against the bright spark who led the Fund to this point. According to the note, in an effort to mitigate the severe delays in pension payments,   “widows and  staff with disabilities” are being accorded priority in client servicing.

How fortuitious that Mr. Takasu put the new draft MOU on ice. No telling how those added ‘flexibilities’ in doling out favoritism and retaliation would have added to the chaotic situation already prevailing at the Fund. You may recall that the AFICS/FAFICS President (one and the same) who has for some time now been telling us that the MOU is none of our business, went to the Pension Board meeting last month and railed against the MOU being put on ice by Mr. Takasu, and against retiree and staff efforts that have ‘damaged’ the Fund.

Following the Pension Board meeting, in her letter to the Secretary-General of 4 August, the AFICS/FAFICS President voices seemingly new-found concerns about investment management and oversight and Financial Rules. She also refers in her 'Highlights' of the Pension Board meeting to slow-downs in client servicing, framing the problem in terms of the Fund's failure to meet its 15 business day benchmark for client servicing and the need for resources now devoted to IPAS implementation to be re-channelled to this effort.  From where does such an unrealistic benchmark emanate when Fund client servicing is facing months-long delays?  She neglects to mention both in her 'Highlights' and in her 4 August letter to the Secretary-General  that the IPAS system is pushing things in the opposite direction than intended, resulting in delays of several months for withdrawal settlements and payments of benefits. The MOU (and by extension efficient operation of the Fund?) is none of our business as dues-paying constituents, she huffs, but it’s somehow her business to continue to stalwartly support the CEO in his push for more authority and power, including over investment staff. 

We’re not giving up on our months-long effort to persuade the AFICS/FAFICS President and Governing Board that they’re obliged to convene an AFICS meeting, as requested on 12 June by 82 dues-paying AFICS members, under the by-laws. We were told that this herculean feat would demand three months of strenuous preparation. That brings us to mid-September. No doubt the GA and resulting lack of conference rooms will be put forward as yet another reason for delay. We're not advocating SG jurisdiction over the AFICS leadership, but here's a situation that could clearly benefit from a shake-up at the top.

As posted by the UN Staff Union

As you may be aware, the pension fund recently put in place a new IT system called IPAS (Integrated Pension Administration System). While this was supposed to improve the client experience, it has instead led to significant delays in paying out pensions to newly retired colleagues - the delay can be as long as four months (although this also includes delays by organizations and staff in submitting correct documents to the fund) and could grow longer.

The delay is extended for staff who have worked part time or had breaks in service. Furthermore, staff who have not accumulated leave prior to retiring as well as those with large medical bills have reported serious cashflow difficulties. 
We understand that the problems with IPAS stem from flaws in the software concept and design, which we believe could have been addressed prior to implementation.

These problems are serious and go well beyond the "temporary slowdown of processing times" flagged by the fund CEO, Sergio Arvizu in his letter last June (…/imp/IPASGen01June2015.pdf). We will be taking this issue up with the pension fund leadership - a fund leadership which as you may know has been recently distracted by internal difficulties and the resignation of its investment committee chair, Ivan Pictet.

In the meantime, you should be aware that the client-facing staff of the pension fund are doing their best to address the backlog and prioritizing cases of widows and staff with disabilities. While we understand your frustration we urge that you do not focus your heat on them.
At the same time, if you are retiring in the coming months, and especially if you have large medical bills, we advise that you accumulate leave to cash-in, increase your cash reserves and defer any post-retirement plans for large expenditures such as a new property or car.
We will keep you updated on how this develops.

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